Biden Supports Sweden, Finland’s Bids to Join NATO

President Joe Biden on Thursday enthusiastically welcomed Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the NATO security alliance — a move that would bring two of Europe’s most modern militaries right to Russia’s northwest border.  Speaking from the Rose Garden, flanked by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland, Biden said he would send their membership applications to the U.S. Congress, where he hopes for a swift approval.  “Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies,” Biden said. “And a strong moral sense of what is right. They meet every NATO requirement, and then some.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement about Sweden and Finland on Wednesday at the alliance headquarters in Brussels. The 29 other NATO members will have to agree by consensus to admit the two nations—a process that normally takes up to a year but is expected to be faster in this case. Finland’s and Sweden’s applications mark a significant departure from their decades-long neutrality, dating from the Cold War. Moscow’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine on February 24 raised fears in both countries, especially in Finland, which shares a border with Russia of more than 1,300 kilometers. At a Wednesday meeting at the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Swedish counterpart, Peter Hultqvist, “We look forward to your contributions to the NATO alliance.” “This is a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression,” Hultqvist said. Only NATO ally Turkey has expressed reservations about the Baltic neighbors joining the alliance, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing them of giving a haven to “terrorists” and imposing sanctions on Turkey. “We asked for 30 terrorists to be extradited, but [Sweden] said they wouldn’t,” he said this week. “You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO. NATO is a security entity. It is a security agency. Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security.” Ankara says Sweden and Finland have harbored people it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants and followers of U.S.-based Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan has also said Turkey would oppose NATO bids from those who imposed sanctions on Ankara. Sweden and Finland had … Continue reading “Biden Supports Sweden, Finland’s Bids to Join NATO”

Russia: 1,730 Ukrainian Troops Have Surrendered in Mariupol

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday hundreds more Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, bringing the total this week to 1,730.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement it was registering fighters who left Azovstal, an operation that began Tuesday and was continuing Thursday.  “The ICRC is not transporting POWs to the places where they are held,” the aid group said. “The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative. This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.” Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the Russian account of the number of Ukrainian fighters who have surrendered at the last holdout in Mariupol. Ukraine has expressed hopes that the soldiers can be part of a prisoner swap with Russia, while Russia’s main investigative body said it intends to interrogate them and determine if any were involved in crimes against civilians.  The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine.  With Russian forces focusing efforts on the eastern Donbas region, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said Thursday that agreeing to a cease-fire with Russia “is impossible without total Russian troop withdrawal.” “Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” Podolyak said in a Twitter post. A senior U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday there have been no major gains by either Russia or Ukraine in the last day, although Ukrainian forces “continue to claw back territory” north and northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city. The official did not dispute a British intelligence assessment that top Russian military commanders have been fired. “We have seen indications where Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties,” the U.S. official said, adding that the U.S. had nothing to share about “senior, senior levels” of the Russian command. Russian logistical and troop morale issues are continuing, the official said.  Ukraine on Thursday welcomed the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador. The U.S. Senate gave its approval to Bridget Brink, a … Continue reading “Russia: 1,730 Ukrainian Troops Have Surrendered in Mariupol”

Monkeypox Spreads in Europe; US Reports Its First Case

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it had confirmed a single case of monkeypox virus infection in a man who had recently traveled to Canada. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said its labs confirmed the infection to be monkeypox on Wednesday afternoon. The state agency said it was working with CDC and relevant local boards of health to carry out contact tracing, adding that “the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.” The Public Health Agency of Canada late on Wednesday issued a statement saying it is aware of the monkeypox cases in Europe and is closely monitoring the current situation, adding no cases have been reported at this time. Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. It was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade. Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body. The Massachusetts agency said the virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with fluids or sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact. It said no monkeypox cases had previously been identified in the United States this year. Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria. The CDC also said it is tracking multiple clusters of monkeypox reported in several countries including Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, within the past two weeks. A handful of cases of monkeypox have recently been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain. Earlier on Wednesday, Portuguese authorities said they had identified five cases of the infection and Spain’s health services said they were testing 23 potential cases after Britain put Europe on alert for the virus. European health authorities are monitoring any outbreak of the disease since Britain reported its first case on May 7 and has found six more in the country since then. …

Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 19

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT: 12:50 a.m.: RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty shares an interview with the mother of a Ukrainian National Guardsman based in Mariupol.  During the May 11 interview in Kyiv, Inna Zatoloka shares some of the texts her 20-year-old son sent her since Russia invaded Ukraine. “Mother, I’m alive,” he once texted. “Love you.”  Mark Zatoloka was one of hundreds of soldiers defending civilians sheltering in the Azovstal steel plant while Russia attacked. Inna does not know whether he made it out alive.    12:30 a.m.: The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. The measure includes money for military equipment, training and weapons for Ukraine, replenishing stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and financing to help other countries that aid Ukraine. It also includes billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including helping to address global food shortages caused by the conflict. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its approval to the package last week. If the Senate approves the measure, it would go to President Joe Biden for his signature. …

Jailing of Georgian Media Owner Sends ‘Bad Message’

The jailing of a politician turned media owner sends a “bad message” from Georgia about the country’s commitment to press freedom and Western ideals, international bodies and rights groups say. Nika Gvaramia, director of the opposition station Mtavari TV, appeared in court in the capital, Tbilisi, on Monday accused of harming the financial interests of a media outlet that he previously ran. The court convicted Gvaramia of abuse of power related to his time as general manager and director of the independent TV station Rustavi 2. He was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. His lawyer, Dimitri Sadzaglishvili, told local media they plan to appeal. Gvaramia left Rustavi in 2019 after the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ruling by Georgia’s Supreme Court that the station should be returned to one of its former owners. In response to the takeover, Gvaramia accused the government of using the judiciary system to give ownership to Kibar Khalvashi, a businessman seen as loyal to the ruling Georgian Dream party. Both Gvaramia and other figures in Georgia’s opposition media have said they believe the ruling party is attempting to silence critical media. In response to VOA’s request for comment, a spokesperson in Georgia’s Embassy in Washington said that the embassy “will refrain from commenting” on the case. As well as working in media, Gvaramia was previously involved in politics, holding the posts of Minister of Justice and Minister of Education and Science under former President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2007 and 2008. He is also one of the lawyers representing Saakashvili, who was imprisoned in October 2021 upon returning to Georgia after eight years in exile. A court convicted the former leader in absentia of misuse of power. International reaction The arrest of a prominent media figure sparked international condemnation, with analysts and rights groups calling the case politically motivated. David Kramer, managing director for global policy at the George W. Bush Institute, told VOA’s Georgian Service he believes the sentencing “is the latest evidence of the government abusing the judicial system to go after the political opponents.” “It is not the first time; I fear it won’t be the last time,” said Kramer, who under President George W. Bush was the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The U.S embassy in Georgia said the case brings into question Georgia’s commitment to Western orientation. “From its … Continue reading “Jailing of Georgian Media Owner Sends ‘Bad Message’”

Russian Soldier Pleads Guilty to Killing Ukrainian Civilian

A 21-year-old Russian soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian in the first war crimes case Kyiv has brought since the Russian invasion three months ago. Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin could be sentenced to life in prison for shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window four days after Russia launched the invasion in late February.  Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously has said her office is preparing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting. It is not clear how many of the Russians are in Ukrainian custody or how many might be tried in absentia. In Shishimarin’s case heard in a Kyiv court, Venediktova alleged that he was among a group of Russian soldiers that fled Ukrainian forces on February 28, driving to Chupakhivka, a village about 320 kilometers east of the capital, Kyiv. The prosecutor-general said that on the way the Russian soldiers saw a man riding his bicycle and talking on his phone. Shishimarin, according to Venediktova, was ordered to kill the man so he wouldn’t be able to report them to Ukrainian military authorities but did not say who gave the order. Shishimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window and hit the victim in the head, Venediktova wrote in a Facebook account. “The man died on the spot just a few dozen meters from his house,” she said. In a brief video account of the incident produced by the Ukrainian Security Service, Shishimarin said, “I was ordered to shoot. I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.”  Venediktova’s office has said it is investigating more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials. International authorities are also investigating possible Russian war crimes, while Moscow is believed to be working on crimes cases against Ukrainian troops. Russia has denied targeting civilians and accused Ukraine of staging atrocities. Ukraine says thousands of its civilians have been killed. Some material in this report came from The Associated Press. …

Burkini Disputes Resurface in Southwestern France

A simmering controversy over burkinis — a type of head-to-toe swimsuit favored by conservative Muslim women — has roared back to life in France. This week, the southwestern city of Grenoble approved the use of burkinis in public pools, but the French government says it will challenge the ruling. The move revives long-running tensions about Islamic apparel and the country’s staunchly secular values. Interviewed on French radio, Greens Mayor Eric Piolle said it was important that all city dwellers could access public services — including pools.   The ruling allows women to swim in burkinis but also topless.   The mayor’s views aren’t universally accepted. Dissenters on the Grenoble city council say Piolle had no authority to pass the measure. The conservative regional council head for the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes area has suspended subsidies to Grenoble, saying the burkini a sign of women’s submission and political Islam.   Now, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says he will challenge the Grenoble swimsuit decision in court, calling it an unacceptable provocation. Even members of Piolle’s leftist party are divided over it.  This is not the first time burkinis have caused a splash in fiercely secular France. They were banned on Marseille beaches a few years ago — until a French court overturned the move, judging it discriminatory.   Burkini bans in French public pools are different — they’re based on hygiene grounds which also prohibit men’s long swim trunks.   But burkinis also fit into a hot debate over France’s 1905 law separating religion and state, and simmering fears of political Islam. France bans headscarves in public schools and for female French Football Federation players competing in matches. The face-covering niqab is banned in all public spaces.   A recent poll by the conservative C-News channel found most French oppose burkinis in public pools, but some swimmers don’t care.  “Everyone should be free to wear what they want,” says Marie, who was swimming at a public pool in Paris. “So long as it’s not imposed on me, it’s not a problem.”   That also seems to be the attitude in the Brittany city of Rennes. A few years ago, local authorities quietly changed pool rules allowing all kinds of swimsuits, including burkinis. Initial controversy soon quieted down. Now, of the thousands swimming in Rennes public pools each year, local government says, just over a handful wear burkinis.   …

Pope Remarks on Needing Tequila Go Viral 

Pope Francis recently joked with seminarians about needing some alcohol to deal with severe pain in his knee. He recently cancelled a foreign trip because of the ailment, sparking speculation about his declining health. Pope Francis has been suffering from pain in his right knee due to strained ligaments in recent weeks which has also forced him to use a wheelchair on more than one occasion. Doctors have also prescribed physical therapy to help him with his ailment. But following his general audience this week, he seemed to think there was something else that could help him with his pain. He was riding on his popemobile at the end of the audience when some Mexican seminarians shouted out to him asking him how he was doing with his knee. The exchange between the pope and the seminarians went viral when Francis said he could use some tequila to deal with his knee pain. The seminarians asked him in his native Spanish how his knee was doing, and Francis responded it was “capricious.” The pope said: “Do you know what I need for my knee? A little tequila.” The Mexicans laughed heartily and promised to bring Pope Francis a bottle of the potent liquor — considered Mexico’s national drink — the next time they pay a visit to the Santa Marta house in the Vatican where Francis lives. The faithful saw the pope limping badly when he was presiding at ceremonies recently for the Easter festivities. He uses a cane to walk. There have been concerns that at 85-years of age the pope’s health is not what it used to be when he was elected more than nine years ago. But close advisers have rejected any speculation that the pope is generally unwell. Argentine Bishop Victor Manuel Fernandez from La Plata met with the pope on May 14 and later tweeted: “He’s in very good health and the same lucid reflection as always.” Pope Francis has a busy travel schedule for the remainder of this year with confirmed trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in early July and a separate trip to Canada later the same month. Still, doubts have persisted after he recently cancelled a planned two-day trip to Lebanon in June due to his knee problem. …

German Ex-Leader Schroeder Loses Privileges Over Russia Ties 

Germany’s three governing parties plan to strip former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his office and staff after he maintained and defended his long-standing ties with Russia despite the war in Ukraine. Schroeder’s own Social Democratic Party said Wednesday that lawmakers on the parliamentary budget committee had agreed to link some of the former German leader’s privileges to actual duties, rather than his status as former chancellor. They planned to submit a proposal to lawmakers on Thursday. Schroeder has become increasingly isolated in recent months due to his work for Russian state-controlled energy companies. The 78-year-old is chairman of the supervisory board of Russian state energy company Rosneft and also has been involved with the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline projects. Earlier this year his office staff quit and Schroeder faced a fresh wave of outrage from former political allies after the New York Times quoted him saying that the massacre of civilians in Bucha “has to be investigated” but he didn’t think the orders would have come from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a longtime friend. …

Finland and Sweden Formally Submit Application to Join NATO

Finland and Sweden have officially applied for membership in the NATO military alliance, spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement Wednesday at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, flanked by the ambassadors from both countries after receiving their formal application letters. “This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” Stoltenberg said. “All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together. And we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize.” Finland’s parliament overwhelmingly voted to join NATO earlier Wednesday before Stoltenberg’s announcement by a vote of 188-to-8. The applications of Finland and Sweden mark a historic departure from their decades-long neutrality posture dating back to the Cold War. But Moscow’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine on February 24 raised fears in both countries, especially in Finland, which shares a long border with Russia. All 30 NATO member nations are expected to quickly consider the applications, a process that normally takes up to a year. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about the Baltic neighbors joining the alliance, accusing them of giving safe haven to “terrorists” and imposing sanctions on Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West that Moscow would respond if NATO bolstered its military presence in Finland and Sweden after the two Nordic countries declared Sunday they want to join the U.S.-dominated Western military alliance. U.S. President Joe Biden will offer his personal support when he meets Thursday at the White House with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland. …

Russia on Verge of Controlling Mariupol

The fall of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol to Russia appeared imminent Tuesday as Ukraine moved to abandon the city’s sprawling steel plant, and hundreds of Kyiv fighters who had been holed up there turned themselves over to Russian forces in a deal reached by the warring parties. The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine. But Russia is struggling to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine and has failed to topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or take the capital, Kyiv. Under constant Russian shelling, which Ukraine estimates has killed 20,000 civilians in Mariupol, much of the city has been reduced to rubble. What’s left of it is situated between the Russian mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. More than 260 Ukrainian fighters — some of them seriously wounded and lying on stretchers — left the ruins of the Azovstal steel plant on Monday and turned themselves over to Russian forces. Ukrainian authorities said they were working to remove its remaining soldiers from the steel mill, but it was not clear how many remained. Russia called the operation a mass surrender. The Ukrainians, in contrast, said its garrison had completed its mission. “The goal was that our guys, who heroically defend the city and restrain the enemy directly in Mariupol, did not allow them to pass through Mariupol,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told VOA’s Ukrainian Service. “That is, they saved the nation, they allowed the Armed Forces of Ukraine to prepare and other cities to be more prepared for this terrible war that has already taken place in Ukraine.” It was not clear what would happen to the Ukrainian fighters. A Russian official cast doubt on a full-scale prisoner exchange. Fifty-three seriously injured fighters were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said. Novoazovsk is under the control of Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists. Another 211 fighters were taken to the town of Olenivka, an area also controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Malyar said, adding that the evacuees would be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia. During his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy discussed the evacuation of soldiers from Mariupol. “The operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol … Continue reading “Russia on Verge of Controlling Mariupol”

Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 18

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT: 1:20 a.m.: A Ukrainian court held a preliminary hearing on Friday in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion, after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian. The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said the defendant was a 21-year-old tank commander in the Kantemirovskaya tank division from the Moscow region. The prosecutor general had published a photograph of him ahead of the hearing. The defendant identified himself as Vadim Shishimarin, and confirmed that he was a Russian serviceman.   Prosecutors said Shishimarin and four other soldiers stole a car after their convoy came under attack. As they were travelling near the village of Shupakhivka in the Sumy region, they encountered the man on a bicycle.  “One of the soldiers ordered the accused to kill the civilian so that he would not denounce them,” the prosecutor’s office said.  In a video released earlier this month by authorities announcing his arrest,  Shishimarin said he had come to fight in Ukraine to “support his mother financially.”  The court will reconvene on May 18, the judge said.  1:15 a.m.: Lawmakers in Finland voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in favor of the country joining NATO by a vote of 188-12, marking a dramatic reversal of Finland’s military non-alignment policy dating back more than 75 years. Agence France-Presse has the video:   12:30 a.m.: The fall of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol to Russia appeared imminent Tuesday as Ukraine moved to abandon the city’s sprawling steel plant, and hundreds of Kyiv fighters who had been holed up there turned themselves over to Russian forces in a deal reached by the warring parties. The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine. But Russia is struggling to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine and has failed to topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or take the capital, Kyiv. VOA’s National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin reports.   Under constant Russian shelling, which Ukraine estimates has killed 20,000 civilians in Mariupol, much of the city has been reduced to rubble. What’s left of it is situated between the Russian mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from … Continue reading “Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 18”

Fall of Ukraine’s Port of Mariupol to Russians Appears Imminent

The fall of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol to Russia appeared imminent Tuesday as Ukraine moved to abandon the city’s sprawling steel plant, and hundreds of Kyiv fighters who had been holed up there turned themselves over to Russian forces in a deal reached by the warring parties. The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine. But Russia is struggling to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine and has failed to topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or take the capital, Kyiv. Under constant Russian shelling, which Ukraine estimates has killed 20,000 civilians in Mariupol, much of the city has been reduced to rubble. What’s left of it is situated between the Russian mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. More than 260 Ukrainian fighters — some of them seriously wounded and lying on stretchers — left the ruins of the Azovstal steel plant on Monday and turned themselves over to Russian forces. Ukrainian authorities said they were working to remove its remaining soldiers from the steel mill, but it was not clear how many remained. Russia called the operation a mass surrender. The Ukrainians, in contrast, said its garrison had completed its mission. “Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. It’s our principle,” Zelenskyy said in announcing that troops had begun leaving the mill, with its Cold War-era tunnels and bunkers. It was not clear what would happen to the Ukrainian fighters. A Russian official cast doubt on a full-scale prisoner exchange. Fifty-three seriously injured fighters were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said. Novoazovsk is under the control of Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists. Another 211 fighters were taken to the town of Olenivka, an area also controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Malyar said, adding that the evacuees would be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia. During his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy discussed the evacuation of soldiers from Mariupol. “The operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol was started by our military and intelligence officers. To bring the boys home, the work continues, and this work needs delicacy. And time.” Malyar said efforts were being made to rescue the remaining fighters inside the plant, the last … Continue reading “Fall of Ukraine’s Port of Mariupol to Russians Appears Imminent”

Nestlé Ships Baby Formula From Switzerland, Netherlands Amid US Shortages

Swiss food giant Nestlé is to fly baby formula from Switzerland and the Netherlands to the United States amid shortages there, a group spokeswoman said Tuesday.  The Swiss group will specifically import two brands of hypoallergenic milk, as the shortage has become an additional source of stress for parents of babies intolerant of cow’s milk protein.  “We prioritized these products because they serve a critical medical purpose,” the spokeswoman told AFP, confirming a press report.   The two brands are already imported: Gerber Good Start Extensive HA milk from the Netherlands, and Alfamino milk from Switzerland.   Faced with the shortage, Nestlé decided to airlift the milk “to help fill immediate needs,” said the group, which also has two factories in the United States producing infant formula.   Initially caused by supply chain problems and a shortage of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the formula shortage worsened in February when an Abbott factory in Michigan closed after a recall of products suspected of causing the deaths of two babies.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the milk but issued a “483” form alleging irregularities at the plant, Abbott said Friday, adding that it “immediately” began implementing corrective measures.   On Monday, Abbott reached an agreement with U.S. authorities to restart production at the plant.   The White House is in constant contact with the four major manufacturers — Nestlé, Reckitt, Abbott and Perrigo — to identify transportation, logistics and supplier barriers to increasing production.  …

US Launches Program to Capture, Analyze Evidence of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday announced the launch of a new program to capture and analyze evidence of war crimes and other atrocities perpetuated by Russia in Ukraine, as Washington seeks to ensure Moscow is held accountable for its actions. The State Department in a statement said the so-called Conflict Observatory will encompass the documentation, verification and dissemination of open-source evidence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Reports and analyzes will be made available through the Conflict Observatory’s website. U.S. President Joe Biden has hammered Russia over what he calls “major war crimes” committed in Ukraine, and has underscored his resolve to hold Moscow accountable for launching the largest land war in Europe since World War Two. The Kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities were staged. The U.S. State Department said the new program, which is being established with an initial $6 million investment, will analyze and preserve information, including satellite imagery and information shared on social media, so it can be used in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms. “This new Conflict Observatory program is part of a range of U.S. government efforts at both national and international levels designed to ensure future accountability for Russia’s horrific actions,” the statement said. A Ukrainian court held a preliminary hearing on Friday in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian.  Russia has bombed cities to rubble and hundreds of civilian bodies have been found in towns where its forces withdrew since starting what it calls a special operation to demilitarize Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies say it is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war. …

US State of Maryland Sends Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine

Maryland’s public safety agencies have come together to organize help for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression. The state’s governor, Larry Hogan, the Maryland Health Department, as well as the state’s police department donated medical equipment, medical supplies, and PPE to Ukraine’s hospitals and first responders. VOA’s Russian Service produced this report. …

Blinken Speaks With Wife of American Basketball Player Detained in Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken with Brittney Griner’s wife, assuring her that securing the release of the American professional basketball player detained in Russia is a top priority for the Biden administration, a senior State Department official said Tuesday. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, allegedly in possession of cannabis-infused vaporizer cartridges. The Russian customs service said at the time that the alleged offense could carry a prison term of five to 10 years. The U.S. State Department this month said the 31-year-old was wrongfully detained, and has assigned diplomats to work for her release. Read full story The official said Blinken told Cherelle Griner on Saturday that the United States is working day and night on the case, which has his full attention. A Russian court on Friday extended Griner’s pretrial detention by one month, her lawyer told Reuters. Washington and Moscow have kept diplomatic channels open since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, despite the dire state of bilateral relations. They agreed on a prisoner swap last month in which U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed was freed from prison in Russia, where he had been serving a nine-year sentence on assault charges. He was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been serving a 20-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of drug trafficking. Russia continues to hold Paul Whelan, another U.S. Marine veteran who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in 2020.   …